Township council introduces budget with significant rate hike

Proposed plan would raise taxes $156 on average home

Gloucester Township Council introduced its 2020-2021 budget during a regularly scheduled meeting May 11 at the municipal building.

While council members and local officials met physically for the meeting at town hall, social distancing guidelines required residents to watch the session and contribute via public portions through a call-in feature, as well as over YouTube.

The budget calls for a tax rate increase from 3.966 this year to 4.050 next fiscal year. The new tax rate would increase taxes for residents with the average assessed property value of $188,000 by approximately $156, according to Business Administrator Tom Cardis.

After last year’s budget avoided a hike in the tax rate, the amount to be raised by taxation next year, if the budget is approved during its public hearing, would rise from $47,829,279.04 to $52,838,421.58.

According to township figures, Gloucester Township also raised local municipal taxes by approximately $150 two years ago.

The public hearing for the proposed 2020-2021 budget is scheduled for Monday, June 8, starting at 7:30 p.m. at the municipal building. During the meeting, council is expected to present the budget to interested taxpayers. In the event the municipal building is still closed to residents due to COVID-19, special instructions attached to the meeting agenda online will detail how to join the session virtually.

Resident Paul Krug stated during the meeting’s public portion that he hopes council reexamines the budget more closely before the public hearing in June, due to the significant rise in the tax rate.

“I would like to put in a formal request to council to go through this budget with a fine-tooth comb, almost as a formal audit, looking for cost savings like many of the homeowners and small businesses will be doing at this time,” Krug said. “Inflation has been kept near 2 percent for the last couple of years, and an 8- to 9-percent increase of the tax levy against the citizens just doesn’t add up.”

Council also passed two resolutions during the meeting that allow for authorization of applications for recreation facility enhancements grants, pertaining to playgrounds in the Laurel Hill and Woods Edge developments. The two grants are for $25,000 each and would help cover the cost of replacing the structures.

Council also passed an ordinance on first reading amending another  ordinance that would allow for the creation of an electronic billboard along Route 42, across from the Gloucester Township Premium Outlets.

According to Solicitor David Carlamere, the ruling allowing the sign is currently in the hands of the township’s planning board. After a resident questioned the maximum number of billboards legally allowed within a certain area, Carlamere said such standards are set forth by the state Department of Transportation.

The project also proposes the construction of a hotel at the location as well.

“I would ask that the council potentially just looks at the electronic road signs that are there … I just get the feeling that we’re starting to get bombarded with road signs along that particular corridor,” said Krug.

While planning and zoning board meetings have been placed on hold since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, council President Orlando Mercado said the township is currently moving forward with virtual meetings for the two boards. Cardis indicated the township wants to host a planning board meeting Tuesday, June 9, to discuss the proposed project.

Council’s next scheduled meeting is planned for Wednesday, May 27.